Analysis from Israel

Though Israel’s diplomatic situation has improved remarkably, there’s been one glaring and nontrivial exception: Europe. Hence, it’s encouraging to discover that even in Europe, patient, persistent diplomacy can bear fruit if it focuses on a few clear, consistent messages. Consider, for instance, the following recent events:

Two weeks ago, by an overwhelming vote of 112-2, the lower house of the Czech parliament passed a resolution which urged the Czech government to show “respect” for Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and oppose any action by the European Union or other international organizations that “distorts historical facts” or is “imbued with the spirit of hatred of Israel.” The resolution slammed UNESCO, in particular, for its “biased and antagonistic approach” toward Israel, epitomized by its serial denial of Jewish ties to Jerusalem, and even demanded that the government withhold its UNESCO dues.

This doesn’t mean the Czech embassy will be moving to Jerusalem anytime soon; Congress has been trying to move the U.S. embassy there since 1995 without success. Nor will other European countries swiftly follow suit; the Czech Republic has long been Israel’s closest friend in Europe. Nevertheless, somebody had to be first, and this resolution is a stunning and unprecedented break with Europe’s longstanding rejection of Jewish rights to Jerusalem.

That same week, the Berlin chapter of Germany’s main center-left party, the Social Democrats, adopted a resolution condemning “the anti-Semitic BDS campaign” and “widespread anti-Zionist anti-Semitism.” This is noteworthy because young leftists are usually the West’s most anti-Israel demographic, yet the resolution was sponsored by the party’s youth wing (Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats adopted a similar resolution last year).

The timing was also notable. It occurred one month after the Social Democrats’ top politician, Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, visited Israel and ostentatiously chose to meet with Breaking the Silence, a group that fuels the BDS movement by promoting the canard that Israel perpetrates war crimes at anti-Israel events worldwide, rather than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In other words, the Berlin chapter and its youth wing implicitly rejected their leader’s anti-Israel positions.

The following week, Norway condemned the Palestinian Authority for naming a women’s center after a female terrorist who murdered 38 Israeli civilians. It also demanded a refund of the money Norway donated for the center and vowed not to sign any new agreements with the organizations behind the project until “satisfactory procedures are in place to ensure that nothing of this nature happens again,” in the words of Foreign Minister Borge Brende. This is noteworthy because Norway is one of the most anti-Israel countries in Europe, and has long lavished funding on the PA while turning a blind eye to its glorification of terrorism. Thus, for Oslo to suddenly say it’s no longer prepared to let its money be used for this purpose is revolutionary.

A few days later, Denmark halted $8 million in funding for 24 nongovernmental organizations while it investigates whether the funds are going to support BDS, anti-Israel incitement or glorification of terror. “It is possible that in wake of the examination we will be forced to stop our support of a number of Palestinian organizations,” its Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “Until this examination is complete we won’t sign any new grants for Palestinian organizations.” Like Norway, Denmark is a major Palestinian funder that has previously turned a blind eye to how its money is used.

All this was complemented by another notable development in the one non-European Western country that has consistently shared Europe’s attitudes and policies toward Israel: New Zealand. Its foreign minister wrote to Netanyahu last month seeking to end a rupture that began in December when it co-sponsored a Security Council resolution against the settlements and Israel responded by bringing its ambassador home and keeping him there. Once, it was Israel that begged other countries to establish relations. Now, it’s a beggar no longer; other countries–even Western ones–want good relations no less than Israel does.

Several factors contributed to these victories. One is the way Israeli NGOs are serving as force multipliers for Israeli diplomacy. The Norwegian and Danish funding decisions, for instance, would be inconceivable had two stellar organizations, Palestinian Media Watch and NGO Monitor, not been patiently been making the case for such moves in European capitals for years. Yet this also wouldn’t have happened had official Israel not begun pushing the issue in talks with European governments, thereby depriving them of a perfect excuse for inaction. Europe will never be more pro-Israel than Israel’s own government.

Second, Israel has finally developed the confidence to play hardball, as it did by downgrading ties with New Zealand and Senegal, another co-sponsor of Resolution 2334, last December. Ties with Senegal were restored this week after the Muslim-majority country promised to support Israel’s bid for observer status at the African Union, which it had previously opposed. The New Zealand rupture is expected to end soon.

This confidence undoubtedly stems in part from Israel’s growing diplomatic strength outside the West, as highlighted most recently by Netanyahu’s address on Sunday to the summit of the Economic Community of Western African States. He was the first Israeli leader to address ECOWAS, which even moved the summit from Saturday to Sunday to accommodate him. The group invited him even though two of its 15 members have no diplomatic relations with Israel, and it pointedly preferred him to another nonmember guest: Morocco’s king. The West African monarch announced he would skip the summit rather than attend alongside Netanyahu, but that gambit signally failed to result, as it once would have, in Israel being disinvited.

Above all, however, these successes stem from focusing consistently on simple, clear, easily digestible messages: Jews’ longstanding ties to Jerusalem, the anti-Semitic nature of BDS, Palestinian incitement, and the way Europe enables it. For too long, Israeli diplomacy has tried to convey complex, nuanced messages while the Palestinians endlessly repeated simple sound bites (“end the occupation”). But when shades of gray compete against black and white in the arena of public opinion, the latter usually wins.

Israel’s recent victories came from hammering home black-and-white messages of its own. And if it continues to do so, it can make further diplomatic gains, even in hostile Europe.

Originally published in Commentary on June 7, 2017

3 Responses to Israel’s Diplomacy Gets Serious and Gets Results

  • andy larner says:

    another excellent article hopefully the worm has finally turned for Israel may G-d bless Israel and protect the Jewish people from harm.

  • Mordavig Cervetus says:

    A critical unacknowledged factor that has nothing to do with Israel diplomacy … Donald Trump and his team let everybody know that the game has changed. Obama´s time is over. Israel bashing is not acceptable anymore. One can certainly still do it, but at its own risk.

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Baby Layla Shows What’s Wrong with Israel’s PR

If there’s one thing Israel advocates agree on, it’s that Israel lost the PR war over May 14’s violent demonstrations in Gaza. Everybody from the U.N. Security Council to a New York public high school mourned the 62 Palestinians killed as innocent victims, even though 53 belonged to terrorist organizations. And with Hamas planning another demonstration on Tuesday, a battle has been raging over whether the PR war is inherently unwinnable or if Israel’s public diplomacy was simply incompetent.

The correct answer is both. And nothing better illustrates this than the story of the Palestinian baby allegedly killed by Israeli tear gas.

Israel’s critics immediately seized on the death of 8-month-old Layla Ghandour as proof of its malfeasance. As the New York Times wrote, “The story shot across the globe, providing an emotive focus for outrage at military tactics that Israel’s critics said were disproportionately violent.” The Times of Israel noted that “Her funeral was filmed and featured on global TV news broadcasts and newspaper front pages.”

Soon afterward, however, a Gazan doctor suggested that she most likely died of a congenital heart defect rather than anything Israel did (a theory later apparently accepted even by Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry, which last week removed Ghandour from its list of people killed by Israel).

What happened next was surreal: The doctor’s explanation was immediately seized on and disseminated worldwide by both official Israeli spokesmen and Israel supporters overseas as if it somehow mattered whether Ghandour was killed by tear gas or a congenital heart defect. In other words, Israel and its supporters implicitly accepted the view of the anti-Israel mob. Had the baby truly been killed by Israeli tear gas, presumably Israel could legitimately have been considered culpable.

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